WV Supreme Court releases report on juvenile justice system - WBOY.com: Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

WV Supreme Court releases report on juvenile justice system

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West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Margaret Workman recently released a report by the Adjudicated Juvenile Rehabilitation Review Commission, which outlined the commission's work and its findings throughout its establishment.

The commission approved the report at its March 18 meeting.

The Supreme Court established the commission in 2011 to look into Division of Juvenile Service operations and programs at the Industrial Home and the Rubenstein center. Now, the commission reviews other facilities as needed.

"The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals is committed to a juvenile justice system which promotes effective interventions and enhances the likelihood of rehabilitation for those children involved in delinquent behavior," Workman said in the release. "This report now gives the commission a framework to continue its mission to encourage systemic changes."

The commission also was set up to look into the death of Industrial resident Benjamin Hill and delve into reports of physical assault and sexual activity between residents and staff at that facility.

An independent review from a New York coroner determined no foul play and no indication of self injury.

Late last year, court monitor Cindy Largent-Hill presented these findings of adjudicated juvenile rehabilitation review commission during a select committee meeting on children, juveniles and other issues.

Largent-Hill said Hill's heart had stopped after he had retired to his cell after dinner.

The commission's recent report said Hill's cause of death could "neither be determined nor confirmed. It can be safely concluded that procedures were not followed. Regularly and timely resident checks were not conducted as specified by policy."

"We could not definitively determine what happened to him but we found that the system needed to focus on improving rehabilitation and treatment," Largent-Hill said in the March 18 state Supreme Court news release.

The commission could not determine a cause of death partly because Hill's body was cremated, the news release says.

"While the questions surrounding Benjamin Hill's tragic death may not be answered, there now exists a commission that is committed to ensuring programs and services are provided to youths in the juvenile system," the news release states.

The report additionally listed several of its "concerning" initial findings, which included:

 

  • psychiatric services were provided via video conference with no face-to-face interaction, control of residents was by lock down; 
  • black paper was placed over the windows so residents couldn't see out; some residents were inappropriately placed because of mental conditions; 
  • residents were given flat sentences; 
  • residents had very little contact with their attorneys during incarceration; 
  • cold cells and thin blankets and mattresses; 
  • limited shower time and a poor quality and quantity of food.

 

Additionally, the report stated a concerning initial finding that there was no gender-specific programming in the female unit.

The report also noted there were many changes at the Industrial Home such as the establishment of a management team, a tenured female correctional office to manage the female unit, more gender-specific programming in the women's unit, and other extracurricular activities to engage the residents such as talent shows, church services and intramural sports.

Largent-Hill discussed these initial concerns along with these improvements during the November subcommittee meeting.  

In that meeting, Largent-Hill said a psychiatrist now comes into the facilities periodically. Officials also got rid of the black paper over the windows at the Industrial facility, Largent-Hill said. Now, officers only will place black magnets over the window as a loss of privilege.

There also have been improvements in the gender specific programming at that facility. Largent-Hill said the commission has witnessed "amazing changes" from the female residents.

The report also listed a concern with the construction of a girls' facility at the former Davis Center property. Initial concerns included the challenge to find an all women staff, providing medical services and the transportation of food from the main center.

These concerns were brought up in a meeting with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. Commissioners encouraged the development of a juvenile justice master plan.

Tomblin took this under advisement and construction of the girls' facility was halted weeks later.

The Division of Juvenile Services was later the target of a petition.

Mountain State Justice, which represents two residents of the facility, originally filed the emergency petition for writ of habeas corpus and writ of mandamus in the state Supreme Court against Dale Humphreys, director of the Division of Juvenile Services, and David Jones, the superintendent of the West Virginia Industrial Home for Youth.

The petition alleged several incidents of what petitioners called "repressive policies" including confining the petitioners to their cells for long periods of time, using solitary confinement as punishment, leaving bathroom and shower breaks up to staff's discretion, requiring residents to wear prison uniforms, limiting contact with families and limiting educational and physical exercise opportunities.

The Division of Juvenile Services recently announced its intention to close the Industrial Home for Youth in Salem as a juvenile facility and to relocate more than 300 adults there.

This change is part of a larger plan proposed Tomblin and the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety to reorganize facilities under the Division for Juveniles Services and the Division of Corrections, court documents state.